Ten Principles for Integration Success

Mark Herndon headshot
By Mark Herndon
Chairman, M&A Leadership Council
Jul 23, 2019

The person on the phone was insistent. “We’ve done several M&A integration efforts over the years, and they just haven’t produced the results we expected. What we need are the tools and templates for everyone to follow – can you help?” My response? “Of, course, but not like that!”

For those of you that don’t know me, I’m a nice guy. M&A integration is tough, and as a professional community, the last thing we need is more deal failures and lousy case examples. I want everyone to succeed – not fail. I want my efforts to help contribute to getting these things right. Believe me, the last thing I want is to be accused of giving someone a “bum steer” as they say in nautical circles, by giving information that just doesn’t help or leads someone astray.

So my refusal to send a bunch of integration tools that day had nothing to do with being greedy or mean spirited. Instead it was based on the tried and true reality, experienced time and again, that what the caller and their organization really needed most was not good looking templates, but solid know-how. I’ve seen this movie before. Throwing a bunch of templates over the transom to them, while well intentioned, was destined to fail.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Tools and templates are important. I can think of a couple of dozen things like this that I would never ever want to lead an integration without having in hand. What this reflects is the reality that M&A integration success is based on experience and readiness, not a cookbook. It’s a maturity curve. Unless and until that organization puts the basics in place, no amount of tools or templates will save the day. In fact, that approach may just give you a faster, better way to run aground. 

"M&A integration success is based on experience and readiness, not a cookbook."

So what are the precedent conditions that will establish the baseline for tools and templates to have their intended effect? At a minimum, the acquiring organization will have accomplished these fundamental requirements:

  • An end-to-end M&A workflow or framework: This must be in place to guide the organization through specific and coordinated steps, decisions, tasks and deliverables across each phase of M&A.
  • An effective governance model with appropriate decision authorities and resourcing levels: This should be established to enable both timely decisions and the ability to execute on agreed plans. Also, this should be supported, of course, with the appropriate budget to get the job done.
  • Training for key leaders and all project team leaders: Adequate training ensures the team is equipped and aligned for success.
  • A commitment to lead: Leading by applying core principles proven to get results is a key element.

As Ten Principles for Integration Success illustrates, without establishing core principles like these as the navigational course your leaders and integration teams will follow, your integration journey may quickly turn into a shipwreck. To summarize that list, here are a few key principles that bear repeating.

  • Strategy must set the integration framework. As you may know, we are debuting the results of our recent survey, The State of M&A Integration Effectiveness™, in a webinar sponsored by the M&A Leadership Council. The importance of leading with an effective integration strategy framework was indicated as THE #1 most important best practice correlated to accomplishment of several essential business outcomes in our regression analysis.
  • Best practices are where you find them. In other words, just because you are the acquirer, don’t automatically assume that you have the dominant or best process (or system, practice, capability, policy, etc.). Instead, relentlessly pursue a full understanding of what makes the acquired business so successful, and be willing to import, leverage or adapt those best practices across the combined entity, regardless of their source.
  • Stabilize the business to preserve value. While everyone talks about “value capture,” most tend to forget that before you can capture value, you have to preserve the value and underlying capabilities of the acquired business before you can leverage them.
  • Top-down leadership and direction should be matched with rigorous process management. At the end of the day, integration success is much more directly determined by the acquirer’s ability to make timely, effective decisions than on completing a checklist. But without superb ability to execute and implement, even the best leaders will fall short.

And finally, don’t forget the most important part – make these principles the heartbeat of how you actually do M&A. Customize them.  Your list of M&A principles for success should be just that…yours. Capture and refine this feedback after every deal. Structure them by each deal phase: strategy & readiness; transaction & due diligence; integration; and finally, long-term value-creation. Review and update your list of success principles on at least an annual basis. Train to these. Visualize them. Embed them into your kick-off and status report-out meetings. Provide accountability and challenge those teams or individuals that are out-of-sync with these proven principles. Recognize successes and heroic examples of how following the principles created value, drove success or saved the day.

Now you are ready for tools. 

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